published Thursday, June 14th, 2012

What's not in a name

There is something almost surreal about current discussions on restoring the original name of the Howard School of Academics and Technology. Officials are looking at going back to just the Howard School.

Fine. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that.

But there's little reason to think that a name change today will boost painfully low academic achievement at Howard any more than adding "Academics and Technology" boosted educational performance years ago.

Howard has been designated a magnet school in hopes that its programs would attract students who are not zoned for Howard.

That didn't quite pan out. The school has hardly any magnet applicants -- a fact acknowledged by Karla Riddle, who oversees the county's magnet schools.

"The idea that we were able to draw because of programming just didn't work," she said. In fact, the school is moving off magnet status.

The simple reality is, while it has made some strides forward, Howard is nowhere near where it needs to be academically.

As the Times Free Press reported in December, only 40 percent of Howard's students scored in the proficient or advanced range on math tests in 2011. In reading and language arts, only 43 percent scored proficient or advanced. The state average for students scoring proficient or advanced in math is 55 percent.

The story is equally grim on ACT scores. The average ACT score in spring 2011 at Howard was 14.3. That compares with a Hamilton County average of 18.8 and a Tennessee-wide average of 19.8.

That is not to discount some improvement at Howard, including higher graduation rates, and some students, administrators and teachers there are no doubt performing well-nigh heroically despite tough odds.

But the numbers clearly indicate that the focus at Howard should be on making the school more academically productive. Expending any significant amount of time and resources on a symbolic name change would be a distraction from that pursuit.

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